Nova Scotia

Mi'kmaw bands take opposite approach to cannabis sales on reserve

Membertou plans to regulate private cannabis dispensaries, while Eskasoni is opting to work with the NSLC.

Membertou plans to regulate private cannabis dispensaries, while Eskasoni is going with a provincial outlet

Membertou is planning to regulate private cannabis dispensaries on reserve, like the one seen here, but Eskasoni is leaving the sale and regulation up to the Nova Scotia government. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Two of the largest Mi'kmaw communities in Nova Scotia are taking different approaches to cannabis.

Membertou is planning to regulate private dispensaries, while Eskasoni is leaving the oversight and sales of cannabis up to the province.

Last year, Eskasoni had been thinking about opening its own dispensary, but decided against it.

Instead, the band has signed a five-year deal with the Nova Scotia Liquor Corp., to open provincially regulated alcohol and cannabis outlets on reserve.

"In Eskasoni's case, the band decided that with all of the safety factors ... involved with alcohol and drugs, that this would be something that would be [done] in partnership with the experts," said Steve Parsons, CEO of the band's corporate division.

Parsons said Eskasoni will take part in enforcement under the agreement.

Steve Parsons, CEO of Eskasoni's corporate division, says under a deal with the NSLC, dispensaries that advertise their products on reserve will face enforcement by RCMP and the band. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

"The band has agreed that if there are dispensaries that open up on the reserve that are advertising their products, that they would work in conjunction with the local RCMP detachment to address the issues," he said.

Parsons said that could include shutting down private dispensaries if necessary, but he said he is not aware of any in Eskasoni right now.

Meanwhile, Membertou has more than a dozen private dispensaries operating on reserve.

Earlier this year, Cape Breton Regional Police took out a full-page ad in the band's newsletter warning about the start of a crackdown on them, calling the dispensaries illegal.

Police said they were reacting to complaints from the community about dispensaries being located in residential neighbourhoods.

Last week, band members voted in a community poll to allow the dispensaries to continue, as long as the band regulates their operation.

Details to come in new year

Membertou Chief Terry Paul was not available for comment, but the band said in an email that details of how that will work will come in the new year.

Nova Scotia's Department of Justice declined to provide anyone for an interview, but said in an email the NSLC is the only authorized cannabis retailer in the province.

The Nova Scotia Association of Mi'kmaw Chiefs has been asking the province to work with them on regulation of cannabis sales since 2018, saying they have the right to self-government, but there has been no agreement to date.


Tom Ayers


Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 37 years. He has spent the last 19 covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at